Emilia shouts from the house that I have a visitor. I wander over. It's Ulrike. She wants permission to go down to my beach. I say, of course.
We stand on the pool terrace, in shade, looking at the hot empty pool.
"It's a shame about your pool."
"It's that fig tree. Over there. The roots, they're pushing through the concrete searching for water. See the cracks?"
"From so far away, with such force. It's incredible."
"Apparently they can get through a foot of concrete. It's always happening-cisterns, septic tanks."
"Ah. Nature." She said it with no cynicism. A sense of awe, rather.
I gestured at her bag.
"Off for specimens? I saw you the other day, in your boat." I felt and attempted to ignore the beginnings of a blush. "What are you working on?" I asked quickly.
"Certain kinds of crab."
"Really?" What more could one say about crabs? "Plenty of crabs on those rocks."
She frowned as if she could sense my indifference.
"I wrote a small thesis on the fiddler crab. You know, the ones with one oversized claw." She paused. "Do you know that before and after the male fiddler crab mates, he soothes the female by stroking her with his claw, very gently?"
"And then-this is amazing-they make love face to face."
"You see? I said 'make love' as if they were humans. Apart from us they are the only animals to do this. Face to face, like so." She held up her hands analogously. "Just us and the fiddler crab. Why should that be?"
"I don't know."
A breeze shook the tree we were standing beneath. The dappled light spot shifted on her face and the air-blue toweling jerkin she wore. We were two feet apart.
"Extraordinary," I said.
She picked up her bag.
"My boyfriend said they are showing your film-Julie. Maybe when we go back I can see it. He says it's very good."
- William Boyd
The New Confessions